Jonathan Swan and Stef W. Knight, Axios, March 17, 2022
U.S. intelligence officials are privately bracing for a massive influx of more than 170,000 migrants at the Mexico border if COVID-era policies that allow instant expulsions during the public health emergency are ended, sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios.
- The response under way includes a newly created — and previously unreported — Southwest Border Coordination Center (SBCC), essentially a war room to coordinate an interagency response.
Why it matters: Border officials have used Title 42 more than 1 million times to rapidly expel migrants at the southern border without hearing asylum claims. But the Trump-era order wasn’t set up to be permanent, and senior Biden officials are preparing for its end as the virus is brought under control.
- Department of Homeland Security intelligence estimates that perhaps 25,000 migrants already are waiting in Mexican shelters just south of the border for Title 42 to end.
- On Wednesday, DHS Deputy Secretary John Tien asked employees “to consider stepping forward to support the DHS Volunteer Force,” citing large numbers of migrants at the southwest border, according to an email seen by Axios. The email seeks general support for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and help with data entry.
Behind the scenes: Internal discussions have raised alarms that human trafficking networks throughout Mexico and Central America will exploit the situation to “generate a mass migration event.”
- Top Biden officials representing multiple agencies have been meeting to discuss a whole-of-government plan to deal with the potentially record-breaking spring influx of migrants. DHS has branded it the Southwest Border Mass Irregular Migration Contingency Plan.
- The plan is sweeping, reflecting how serious the Biden administration believes the situation could soon become, worsening a border surge that has troubled it from the beginning.
The department could surge hundreds or thousands of additional personnel from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, Citizenship and Immigration Services and medical personnel from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Between the lines: Border resources are already strained with unusually high numbers of people attempting to cross every month for a year straight.
- Officials expect those numbers to climb even higher in coming months due both to seasonal trends and the expected end of Title 42.
The backstory: The CDC’s Title 42 order, first issued under then-President Donald Trump in March of 2020, uses the pandemic as a reason for expelling migrants attempting to enter the U.S. — without the chance to seek asylum.
- Despite outcry from progressive Democrats and immigration advocates, the Biden administration has continued to rely on the policy to turn back migrant families and single adults.
- At the same time, the Biden administration has attempted to end Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced migrants into dangerous situations by making them wait for asylum hearings in Mexico.
- The government’s seeming self-contradiction in simultaneously defending Title 42 — which has also forced migrants back to Mexico — was raised in court by D.C. Circuit Judge Justin Walker in a unanimous decision blocking the U.S. from expelling migrant families to countries where they may face persecution or torture.
What to watch: Reuters recently reported that the administration is leaning toward ending Title 42 itself.
- The CDC was recently forced by courts to again end the use of Title 42 for unaccompanied minors, and the order notes “CDC anticipates additional lifting of restrictions” as DHS becomes increasingly able to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.